Faith helps fire victims look ahead

On a recent hot autumn afternoon, Susan Wilson and Bob Fisher, the directors of Ben Lomond’s Quaker Center, stared out at the charred remains of what was once a peaceful spiritual retreat.

Roughly half of the center’s 83 acres of majestic redwoods and lush green meadows were marred by this summer’s CZU Lightning Complex Fire. The 71-year-old retreat was situated on one of the main battle lines of the wildfire, which destroyed 2,000 feet of water pipes, a woodlot full of invaluable firewood and a series of hiking trails. 

But even as they coped with all the destruction, Wilson and Fisher, her husband, decided to house three people who lost their homes in the blaze in the Quaker Center’s cottages. “This is the time that the community needs to come together if it hadn’t before,” Wilson said. 

That sense of duty to the community has been anything but rare among Santa Cruz County’s religious and spiritual groups as mountain residents try to recover from the ravages of the wildfire.  Congregations across the county have provided invaluable support to fire victims by providing spiritual respite as well as free housing, cash assistance and volunteer labor.

A burned log blocks a trail at the Ben Lomond Quaker Center, a stark reminder of how close the fire burned to structures on the site. (Shmuel Thaler – Santa Cruz Sentinel) 

While churches, temples, synagogues and spiritual organizations have worked tirelessly to support their communities, the Quaker Center and many others have had to juggle their mission while struggling to maintain themselves. And amidst the chaos of evacuations, burnt-out homes and smoke-filled skies, all have had to contend with the added complication of a global pandemic.

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Santa Cruz’s Holy Cross Catholic Church — which traditionally relies on fundraisers such as banquets and auctions to make money to support the parish — is among the venerable local institutions that have had to get more creative in helping others during the pandemic. That’s because it’s now harder to raise money, given the need for social distancing and holding down the size of crowds.  

“We’ve kind of morphed ourselves into an extra set of hands,” said Jeff Knapp, a longstanding Holy Cross parishioner who was laid off shortly before the coronavirus hit. From transporting items with his truck to helping elderly church members shop for groceries, Knapp and other Holy Cross volunteers are doing everything in their power to help. 

The services Knapp is providing for the community is also a source of comfort for him. “It helps me remember that I’m not alone, that there are resources available to help me get through things,” he said.

Some religious and spiritual leaders acknowledge that the double whammy of the pandemic and the fire was almost too much for the collective psyche.

“This has been a pretty big shock to our nervous system, showing the fragility and the preciousness of life,” said Bob Stahl, the guiding teacher of Insight Santa Cruz, a Buddhist meditation community.

Finding balance

One huge antidote, Stahl said, has been meditation, which “offers us a place to be …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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